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Fake Lao Tzu Quote

"My teachings are easy..."

Fake Lao Tzu quote: My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice...

This is NOT a quote from Tao Te Ching:


"My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you'll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your heart."






These pompous and arrogant words are far from the mentality of Lao Tzu. What the quote says is that we should all give it up, because we have no chance to grasp the message. Instead we should settle for looking inside our hearts. Under these circumstances, what can we expect to find there but despair?

       There is a contradiction between the first line about the teachings being easy to understand, and the following lines dismissing our ability to do so. Lao Tzu liked to use paradoxes, but not contradictions. Also, he warned repeatedly against showing off and putting oneself above others.


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       This quote is easily connected to a certain chapter from Tao Te Ching, although it is an unpleasant distortion of its wording and message. It is a rendition of chapter 70, which in my version reads like this:


My words are very easy to understand
And very easy to practice.
Still, no one in the world
Can understand or practice them.

My words have an origin.
My deeds have a sovereign.
Truly, because people do not understand this,
They do not understand me.

That so few understand me is why I am treasured.
Therefore, the sage wears coarse clothes, concealing jade.


       Robert G. Henricks in 1989 used clarifications found in the Mawangdui manuscripts from around 200 BC to come up with his version:


My words are easy to understand,
And easy to put into practice.
Yet no one in the world can understand them,
And no one can put them into practice.
Now my words have an ancestor, and my deeds have a lord,
And it's simply because [people] have no understanding [of them],
that they therefore don't understand me.
But when those who understand me are few, then I'm of great value.
Therefore the Sage wears coarse woolen cloth, but inside it he holds on to jade.


       The similarities between the quote examined here and the two versions of chapter 70 are obvious, but also the differences. Already by choosing 'teachings' instead of 'words,' the quote's attitude of superiority is enhanced. The same goes for the statement about 'intellect,' a modern concept which is out of place in a text from ancient China. It implies an inability that is not possible to overcome - especially since the word 'never' is added. If someone would still have hope, it is whisked away with the line about failure for those who still try.

       What Lao Tzu states is not that people try and fail, but that they don't even try because they don't understand. Why would one even try to practice something one doesn't understand? The lines are not a doom on human capacity, but on our awareness. A modern wording would be something like: we don't know what's best for us.

       That is what Lao Tzu explains in the following lines. He understands because he is connected to the origin and sovereign, which is Tao, the Way. Those who have no connection with Tao are unable to understand Lao Tzu when he speaks about it or acts in accordance with it. If they were to grasp it, and Lao Tzu does not deny the possibility, they would understand him.

       The quote examined here, on the other hand, doesn't grant people that option. It states bluntly that we are unable to grasp the meaning. If so, what would be the point of even trying?

       In the last two lines, the quote suggests that Lao Tzu would still be possible to know, if we look into our hearts. The symbolic meaning of the heart differs between the East and the West. To the former, it signifies the mind and will-power, whereas to us it is mainly about emotions - especially in an expression of this kind. It claims that we should search our feelings for the answer.

       Lao Tzu would not agree. Tao is something for the mind to ponder and discover. The end of the chapter deals not with how to understand him, but with the value he possesses by his insight - and that he should still be modest. The quote discussed here omits this, elevating Lao Tzu to something akin to a deity.

       The quote is from Stephen Mitchell's 1988 version of Tao Te Ching (page 70), which has been a bestseller for many years. It is very popular for its elegant and straightforward text. Unfortunately, it frequently deviates quite a lot from Lao Tzu's words and the standard interpretations, as can be found in my discussions of several other flawed Lao Tzu quotes coming from his book.

       For more about Stephen Mitchell and his version of Tao Te Ching, see the chapter A good traveler has no fixed plans.

Stefan Stenudd
September 18, 2020.



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Fake Lao Tzu Quotes - Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Fake Lao Tzu Quotes

Erroneous Tao Te Ching Citations Examined. 90 of the most spread false Lao Tzu quotes, why they are false and where they are really from. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.



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